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Abundance and the Four Elements
Balen, Hendrick van; Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel)
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Balen, Hendrick van
Antwerp, 1575, 1632
Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel)
Brussels (Belgium), 1568 - Antwerp (Belgium), 1625

Abundance and the Four Elements

Ca. 1615. Oil on panel.
Room 083

Abundance, personified by Ceres, goddess of fertility and agriculture, sits in front of a thicket of reeds at the edge of a forest. She has adorned her hair with wheat spikes -her attribute- and bears the horn of plenty under her left arm. Earth sits at her feet, offering her one of her fruits, she is personified by Flora, goddess of the earth and also of spring, which explains the flowers in her hair. Aphrodite, goddess of the sea, stands beside her, pouring water from a conch shell to irrigate the earth. The blue robes fluttering around her body allude to her birth from the waters of the sea. Fire and Air embrace in the sky above them. Vesta, goddess of fire, personifies her element, while Juno, whom Cesare Ripa characterized as a personification of Air in his Iconologia, clutches her attribute: a bird of paradise. Jan Brueghel the Elder maintains the traditional iconography of the natural elements, which had been codified since the Middle Ages, but he updates it by adding three novelties to the staffage: small cherubs, a family of peasants, and a ram. The cherubs guide the viewer to different animals and plants whose significance lies in their further allusions to each of the four elements: flowers and fruits refer to Earth; fish, waterfowl, and crabs from the sea, visible in the background, refer to Water; the lit torch alludes to Fire, and the birds, to Air. The family of peasants in the woods identify human beings as the recipients and ultimate beneficiaries of nature´s abundant gifts. And finally, the ram serves as a traditional symbol of sexuality, transforming the scene into an allegory of the earth´s fertility. Brueghel depicted this subject on various occasions, as it allowed him to demonstrate his gifts as a painter of landscape, animals, and flowers, as well as his mastery of color. For Van Balen, it was an opportunity to showcase his ability to paint nudes. The characteristic pearl-white of his female figures glistens among the delicate greens and blues, offset by small but precise notes of local color scattered around the entire surface, defining the landscape. The precise and delicate modeling of the bodies harmonizes with the refined and meticulous representation of the different elements of nature, imbuing the scene as a whole with a sense of abundance and voluptuousness that invites the viewer to enjoy its sensual beauty. Although this work shares the same subject as Abundance with the Four Elements by Brueghel and Hendrik de Clerck (P1401), the paintings reveal different approaches to the relationship between the figures and the landscape. In the latter work, De Clerck´s figures dominate the composition, and the landscape is just a background. Here, the figures appear more closely related to nature, evoking the harmony of the elements in the natural and human worlds. Abundance with the Four Elements is known to have entered the Spanish Royal Collections sometime between 1686 and 1734, as it is included in the list of paintings rescued from the fire that destroyed the Alcazar Palace on Christmas of that year. In 1747, it was sent to Madrid´s Buen Retiro Palace to decorate the quarters of Philip V and Isabel Farnese, the first monarchs of the new Bourbon dynasty. Years later, it was moved to Madrid´s New Royal Palace, which had been built on the site of the Alcazar Palace, and there it is listed in 1772 in the Chief Butler´s Room. It entered the Real Museo de Pinturas (now the Museo Nacional del Prado) before 1834, therefore, shortly after that institution was founded. Surprisingly, the nudity of its figures did not impede its exhibition in one of the museum´s two main galleries: the Salon Segundo, or Second Hall, which was dedicated to the Flemish School. And yet, this painting´s replica, which is attributed to Jan Brueghel the Younger and is also at the Museo Nacional del Prado, was installed in the sala reservada, along with other paintings considered erotic, including Abundance with the Four Elements by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrik de Clerck (P1401), and Jan Brueghel the Younger´s Abundance (P01400) (Text drawn from Posada Kubissa, T.: Splendor, Myth, and Vision. Nudes from the Prado, 2016, pp. 102-105).


Technical data

Related artworks

Inventory number
Balen, Hendrick van; Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel)
Abundance and the Four Elements
Ca. 1615
Height: 62 cm; Width: 105 cm
Royal Collection (Real Alcázar, Madrid, Pinturas que se llevaron a la armería, 1734, nº 138; Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Pinturas entregadas en dchas. Casas Arzobispales a don Santiago de Bonavia, 1747, nº 138; Palacio Nuevo, Madrid, Retrete del Rey, 1772, nº 138; Palacio Real, Gabinete primero, 1794, s.n.; ¿Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, Madrid, Salon 1º Escuela Holandesa, 1834, nº 173?).

Bibliography +

Eemans, Marc, Brueghel de Velours, Éditions Meddens, Bruselas, 1964, pp. lám. 25.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de pinturas. Escuela flamenca Siglo XVII / por Matías Díaz Padrón, Museo del Prado. Patrimonio Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975, pp. 59-60.

Balis, A (dir.), La pintura flamenca en el Prado, Ibercaja Fonds Mercator, Amberes, 1989, pp. 132.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: catálogo razonado, I, Prensa Ibérica, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 230.

VVAA, Pieter Breughel de Jonge (1564-1637/8) - Jan Brueghel de Oud..., Luca Verlag, Lingen, 1998, pp. 225-227.

Werche, Bettina, Hendrick Van Balen (1575-1632) : Ein Antwerpener Kabinettbil..., Brepols, Turnhout, 2004, pp. 188,410.

Ertz, Klaus, Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568-1625) : kritischer katalog der..., III, Luca Verlag, Lingen, 2008, pp. 1084-1085.

Prosperetti, Leopoldine van Hogendorp, Landscape and philosophy in the art of Jan Brueghel the Elde..., Ashgate, Surrey, 2008.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Las aves en el Museo del Prado, SEO/BirdLife, Madrid, 2010, pp. 126 / 128-130,220.

Posada Kubissa, Teresa, El paisaje nórdico en el Prado. Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2011, pp. 60-61, 158, n. 14.

Posada Kubissa, T., 'J. Brueghel the Elder, H. van Balen. Abundance with the Four Elements'' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute ; Museo Nacional del Prado,, 2016, pp. 102-105, n. 9.

Other inventories +

Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, 1834. Núm. ¿173?.
¿Salon 1º Escuela Holandesa Ciento setenta y tres. El valor y la abundancia Anónimo Tª 4.120?

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1204.
Brueghel (Juan) / 1204. Los cuatro elementos. / Están representados por cuatro hermosas jóvenes con sus respectivos atributos en un país frondoso con niños y toda clase de aves y flores. / Las figuras son de Enrique v. Balen. (tabla). / Alto 2 pies, 2 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 3 pies, 9 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1204.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 1233.

Inv. Felipe V, Buen Retiro, 1747. Núm. 138.
Pinturas entregadas en dichas Casas Arzobispales a don Santiago de Bonavia [...] 138 / Ottra de Vara y tterzia de ancho y dos tterzias de altto de los quattro elementtos original del Brugul en Veintte y quatro mil rreales

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. 138.
Pinturas que se llevaron a la armeria[...] {9218} 138 / Otra tabla de vara y tercia de ancho y dos tercias de alto de los quatro Elementos original del Brugul.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 138.
Retrete del Rey [...] 138 / Una pintura en tabla que expresa ser los quatro elementos de vara y tercia de largo y dos tercias de caida original de Brugul

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1399.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. s.n..
Gabinete primero [...] Vara y quarta de largo tres quartas de alto los Quatro Elementos con las producciones de mar y tierra = Brugul = 15000

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

N.o 1399 (sobre el engatillado)
Inscribed in pen and ink. Upper area, Back, Secondary support

7a No63 / La Abundancia / 2a Brugul
Handwritten label. Frame, back, upper bar

Exhibitions +

Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado
Williamstown MA
12.06.2016 - 10.10.2016

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
03.12.2013 - 30.03.2014

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
Palma de Mallorca
20.06.2013 - 29.09.2013

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
14.03.2013 - 02.06.2013

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
20.12.2012 - 24.02.2013

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
25.09.2012 - 25.11.2012

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
Santiago de Compostela
01.12.2011 - 18.03.2012

Location +

Room 083 (On Display)

Update date: 24-11-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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